For some supporters, connection with a player is immediately lost the moment they no longer represent their club. Little interest, let alone affiliation, unless they wear the red and white of Charlton Athletic.
An attitude you can justify by bluntly pointing to the fact that, as supporters of Charlton, there should only be appreciation for those who currently call SE7 their home. The idea being that you should ‘move on’ from one player, regardless of the connection that existed between supporters and performer, to the next with no lingering thoughts towards the departed.
But most can look beyond such a one-dimensional take on supporter-player relationships, and still admire those who have departed with a similar level of affiliation and appreciation that existed while they fought for Charlton’s cause. A different kind of connection while they wear the colours of a different club, but a connection that means none of the emotions felt towards the player while he was an Addick are lost.
And in the case of Yann Kermorgant, the talismanic figure of a Charlton side that allowed for the strongest of bonds between club and supporters, there is an affiliation shared by the majority of supporters towards the forward that has not waned while Bournemouth and Reading badges have been on his chest.
For the Frenchman represents a period where following the Addicks was rewarding and heart-warming. He represents the self-inflicted crippling of any sort of connection between club and its supporters. He represents the inability of Roland Duchatelet’s regime to run a football club, and not least because of his continued success at a level well above where Charlton currently sit.
He’s part of the Charlton that Duchatelet’s regime has taken away, and a figure involved in the failings inflicted by it that have created such destructive damage. From challenging for each and every header with Kermorgant, to struggling to challenge against apathy. You want him to succeed as if he were wearing red and white, then feel the tinge of pain that comes from remembering he no longer wears red and white.
And so to see the big man from Brittany, as he was described during Sky Sports’ coverage of Reading’s Championship play-off semi-final with Fulham, perform such a heroic role in such a high-profile and important contest provided a certain amount of pride and pleasure.
Were it not for the sheer importance of Kermorgant’s winning goal, coincidentally struck from the spot after previous penalty misdemeanours in Championship play-off encounters, it would be a footnote in the most marvellous of determined and driven performances. The penalty itself won by the Frenchman’s endeavour, as the pressure he applied on Tomas Kalas resulted in the Fulham defender handling inside the box. Tucking beyond Marcus Bettinelli to lead the Royals to Wembley.
But to focus purely on the goal, his 19th of the season at the age of 35, would mean not giving enough credit to a mighty all-round effort. If not holding up the ball and carving out openings for his teammates, then dropping deep inside his own box to perform heroic defensive duties that Naby Sarr and Roger Johnson would not be able to emulate. It a throwback to his warrior-like performances in Charlton colours, that enforced such a bond between Covered End and Kermorgant.
Blissful enjoyment derived from witnessing such a performance, in such a game, from one of my favourite players to ever perform in Charlton colours that went untainted until the game’s final moments. Untainted before a familiar bitter rage returned to the forefront of my mind, and the joy of his performance replaced by the anger of his departure from SE7. An anger shared by so many, to the same intensity as the affiliation with him.
A passionate standing ovation sent his way as the forward, having exerted every ounce of energy his body could possibly give, was withdrawn with a minute to play. In response, there not just a tired applause, but attempts to inspire further support and noise from those who made up the Madejski Stadium’s attendance. A display of a connection between supporters and player, that was so strong in SE7.
I’m still haunted by the solemn look on his face following defeat to Doncaster Rovers in January 2014 as he applauded a set of Charlton supporters while wearing a Charlton shirt for the final time. Unquestionably aware this would be his final game, and that he was being forced out of a club that was already showing signs of the damage Duchatelet’s influence would cause. Still hurting that that relationship, that high quality performer, was taken away from us.
His many great displays while an Addick spring to mind, as the sense that you have been robbed of both a marvellous player and a person intensifies.
The additional quality that meant 101 points were possible in the promotion winning season, with opening goals in the vital wins over Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town. The determination and fight offered, summed up by the iconic image of him covered in more bandage than skin. And, of course, that goal against Hartlepool United on the final day.
The first season in the Championship brought about those goals against Leicester City, enjoyed by Kermorgant as much as they were Charlton supporters. There crucial performances in crucial points through the season, but not least during the eight-game unbeaten run at the end of the campaign, where he was simply unplayable. If I’m haunted by his solemn look after the Doncaster defeat, I’m still mesmerised by the beating of the Charlton badge on his chest following the incredible 6-0 win over Barnsley at Oakwell.
And even as the point where he was to be forced out drew near, there remained inspirational performances of quality and class that strengthened an already unbreakable connection. Leicester, who would go on to be champions, ruffled again, combining with Lawrie Wilson to achieve a superb victory against Brighton, and a delightful free-kick at Oxford United beginning a FA Cup run that would create memorable moments before disaster struck.
So too do you think of each time he has returned to SE7, not least his most recent visit while with Reading in February 2016. Standing ovations for his goals not because Charlton supporters embraced failure, but because they represented the fact failure had been self-inflicted from above. To so readily discard such a performer, and a performer who held such great affiliation for the club and its supporters, is a damaging act that will never be forgiven.
The ability to ‘move on’ made more impossible by the unsuccessful attempts to replace a cult hero treated with utter distain by those unwilling to grasp so much about this club. Unsuccessful not only in terms of ability, from Piotr Parzyszek through to Lee Novak, but unsuccessful in terms of recreating the sort of bond that existed between Kermorgant and Charlton supporters. Bonds between fans and players brought to the club under this regime few and far between, and bonds of such a high intensity simply unable to exist in an atmosphere of apathy, disconnection and disgust.
And so while a poisonous regime linger at a club they have crippled, and cannot heal, one of the great victims of Duchatelet’s reign has the opportunity to inspire his side to a Wembley victory and promotion. Kermorgant the talisman for a side on the verge of a Premier League. A talisman for a Charlton side that had the strongest of bonds with the club’s supporters.
There are, of course, other members of that Charlton side who held or hold similar connections with supporters, with Johnnie Jackson’s ovation as he left the pitch during the final game of the season just passed the perfect example. There a manager, with Chris Powell so poorly treated and his legendary status unblemished, for which an almost identical feeling exists. Sustaining those relationships a simple task.
But it the anger, the position Kermorgant’s sale holds as the catalyst for destruction and disconnection, that has sustained and even strengthened the Frenchman’s status as a cult hero among Addicks.
Love for what he has done, and admiration for what he continues to do. Anger that he was prevented from doing more in Charlton colours, and that he succeeds while we fail. The man that, through no fault of his own, represents the decline from affiliation to apathy under Duchatelet’s directions.